Abbotts 26th Get Together 1961
by John Braun
Four unforgettable days in Magic were enjoyed by more than 600 enthusiasts who gathered at Colon, Michigan, the Magic Capitol of the World, August 23 to 26, for Abbott's 1961 Magic Get-Together. Colon is a little village rich in magical memories, for it was here that the late Percy Abbott called the first of these conclaves back in 1936; They grew so large as the years rolled along that bigger cities nearby were called upon to accommodate the crowds. this year, Recil Bordner, long associated with Percy as a partner, and Neil Foster, newest member of the firm carrying the Abbott Magic Company to new heights, brought the affair back to Colon, and with it came an array of talent and a crowd that will go unequalled for years to come! It was a reunion - a reunion of the magic clan of the Western Hemisphere - and it was a home coming too, for the Great Blackstone, a "native son" of Colon, said it himself - "I'm glad to be home!" The ovation he received will go down in the annals of Magic as one of the important magical memories of modern times - and fortunate you were if you experienced that thrill! but I'm getting way ahead of the story - let's just take it in chronological order and begin with...
The Nite Before Party
Scheduled originally for the Colon Opera House - but moved to the Junior High School Auditorium to accommodate the 500 early arrivals! However, the Opera House scenery transformed the auditorium stage into a roomier facsimile of the Opera House, and MC Monk Watson soon had things going in fine style, especially when he and Karrell Fox became entangled in a version of the Professor Cheer Rope Trick never envisioned in the Professor's wildest imaginings. The Colon German Band, in costume, opened the bill, much virtuosity on the trumpet being displayed by their leader, Walter Chestnut, who certainly had a few variations on "Carnival of Venice" that were show-stopping. Jack Ricketts, with "Ricketts Revelations" kept things moving; Karrell Fox brought on his new "draggin silk"; Monk romped through the "Tipsy Turvy Bottles", assisted by Chuck Kirkham; then youthful Jimmy Shannon was on with rope knots, a beautiful three-ring linking ring routine, the blooming bouquet with lovely assistant; silk to cane, acrobatic cane, and suddenly cane changing back to silk! Very nice work! The Whistlers (a "whistling sailor" duo) proved to be a laugh riot, but I believe they prefer to remain anonymous; Karrell Fox "shot" Watson's picture; Watson retaliated with a Passe-Passe-Bottles-Too-Many tubes routine, to bring on Gordon Miller, a Colon lad, doing manipulative specialties and a giant flag on staff. Then Watson again with Rice, Checkers and Apple combination, to set the stage for the beautiful magic of Neil and Jeanne Foster - that opener with the top hat and gloves changing to bowl of goldfish will find its way into many acts; Center Tear, card fans, a Block Escape, card manipulations, split fans, interlocked fingers card production, and then - Zombie - a work of art in Magic. Monk brought the evening to a close with his Xmas carol, which turned out to be the hilarious "Sow Song" and the orchestra leader conducting poor Orpheus (hapless wight!) through the Underworld, and somehow the railroad yards. If you haven't seen this, your magical education has been sadly neglected! If I recall, it was at this point that the Great Blackstone said: "I'm glad I came home!"
Harry Cecil, MC at the first Abbott Get Together, spoke briefly about the first Get-Together, held in the loft of the magic shop; the balance of the evening was given over to "demonstrations" a pattern which was followed during any spare moments that opened up, for the display center was right there in the school auditorium which served as headquarters.
Bruce Posgate lectured on his favorite topic, "Kid Shows" and he knows quite a lot about the subject too for he has written a guide book on this phase of our art, "Kid Show Showmanship". His demonstrations were enjoyed as much by the adults as the kids!
Jay Marshall, recently back from Australia and a "trip around the World," spoke about his experiences abroad, and told us some interesting things about the Sorcar show. Says Jay, "Sorcar IS the World's Greatest Magician."
Don Alan's lecture could best be described as a treasure chest of heartwarming magic. A spinning linking ring jumps onto the arm, then off and back onto the ring held in the hand; the real know-how on "How to Powder Cards"; The D.A. giant fan; the Road Sign Routine; the Bowl routine move, called by Don "the Retention Vanish" move; loading the bagel, in the bowl routine; the uses and proper sizes of the close-up mat; and a card trick they'll go away talking about, "How come you dealt the card that matches this one?"
Russ Walsh followed with a fine display of his special items- a Cane to Banner and Production of Stand with Top Hat and Rabbit; Appearing Wand, Multiplying Golf Tees, Acrobatic Cane, and Silk to Cane performed by Neil Foster.
Gene Gordon demonstrated Hen Fetsch's Silk Epic, the Professor's Rope Trick, and his own very entertaining Snake Basket routine - good, solid magic!
Neil Foster followed with a "demonstration" that turned out to be an act - Top Hat to Fish Bowl, Golf Ball Routine, the "Three Foreign Magicians" routine, Full Light Sťance, Vampire Block and Haskell's Diminishing Cards.
Those who were famished attended the Church Supper given by the Ladies of the Lutheran Church, for after a day of such intensive work on magic, the body had to be fortified for the big show in the beautiful new High School Auditorium seating some 1,400 people, and sold out for all performances!
Thursday August 24
With Mrs. Wilma Rench at the organ console, the lights dimmed and Dorny's voice over the speaker system introduced Jay Marshall as the MC. Jay, one of "the better cheaper acts" decided to open "with the second act first," and brought on the Amazing Conklins - flowers, Doll House, Umbrella, Hindu Basket which yielded both mother and little daughter as a surprise, Broom Levitation, Wrist Chopper, and a disappearance with vanished girl running in from the audience for a finale.
The next act? The one and only Don Alan with his stage act - Little League Bull Fighting, chicken sandwich, a soft drink, Worm in Apple finding selected card, Invisible deck card trick, a giant card trick the audience sees through? Guillotine trick with Howard Bamman stooging, spot card trick, the Hold-up Trick, and silk production with bowling ball finish. What an act!
Baron La Valle (Lawrence Jones) in a very smart act seen on Ed Sullivan's show produced card fans, goldfish, cigarettes, more fish - until the big fish bowl was crowded with swimming fish!
Karrell Fox as a "big game hunter" produced his doll like wife from a grass hut Doll House, and she promptly undulated into a Hula dance with a lively finish that pleased everyone. Now Jay again - one hasn't seen much of him, nor heard much from him. Fearing his fate at the hands of the audience, he proposes to do his encore effect now, and he does - the hanky that unties itself. the fellow is amazing! But he is topped by zany Mr. Fox in person who fills the stage with debris and feathers in the wackiest magical nonsense I ever hope to see, and which I will never be able to describe.
After intermission, the bright Mr. Marshall bobs up again with some remarks about "tricks that are handed down from "degeneration to degeneration", and introduces Jack Gwynne and his Royal Family of Illusionists in a feast from the magic marts of the World - Cut Turban, Dove Vanish, Zombie glasses levitation, the Colored Sands of India, table lifting seance, and that very puzzling illusion, Vivisection. wonderful!
It was at this point that Mr. Marshall stopped the show with two items - but WHAT ITEMS! His five ring routine and his puppet friend Lefty. Superb entertainment! And then - The Great Blackstone, a "local act" who still has a whole bag of tricks stowed away in his sleeve - silks, canes, fountain of silks, the Vanishing Bird Cage with all the trimmings as well as a stage full of children, the Floating Light bulb, then the rope escape routine and the card tricks with a stage full of men from the audience. A grand showman of the old school, and the applause from the standing audience moved him deeply.
Now who could expect to top a show like that? But we didn't worry, for Friday was another day, and there were demonstrations on over at the conclave headquarters and plenty of talent yet to appear!
Friday August 25
Friday morning the Magi-Ministers held a "Gospel Magic" demonstration with Joe White as MC. bill Oberg of Wheaton University talked on the Fellowship of Christian Magicians, their aims and objects, and demonstrated some of his favorite object lesson magic. Kenneth Turner followed with his magic "Noah's Ark" routine, then Rev. Sherman Epler presented an interesting demonstration based upon "what comes through the eye remains long after the spoken word is forgotten". His lessons were delivered with telling effect. Joe White closed the hour with "the gospel in a Magical nutshell" one of the best magical sermons I've ever attended. A question and answer period followed.
At 2 in the afternoon the Junior magicians Contest was staged by Vernon Lux of Mount Morris, Illinois as MC, and these "magicians of tomorrow" displayed their well rehearsed acts: Bernie Trueblood, Tim Walter, Tom Volenik, Howard Decker, Bob Ve Verka, Samuel Jackson, John Giffin, Toby Roebuck, Ray Snoddy, Dave Suits, and Richard Mis. The winner with the best stage act was Richard Mis, whose rewards was to present his act on the evening show and a merchandise certificate; second prize was won by Bernie Trueblood, and third prizes settled into the clever hands of Tom Volenik, Sam Jackson, and Ray Snoddy. these kids will make your eyes pop!
Close-up performers Senator Clarke Crandall, Jack Pyle, Don Alan and Nick Trost delighted the crowds congregated about four tables in the crowded auditorium, with a display of table magic that would have lured sultan Haroun Al Raschid himself right out of the Thousand Nights and One Night!
Ya say yer not satisfied? Ya say yer not full of magic right up to yer chin? Tellya what I'm gonna do! I'm gonna' turn ya over to Senator Clarke Crandall, who is now taking his bow before Friday Nights magical enthusiasts and the good people of Colon, the 1,400 now gathered in the new HS auditorium!
Crandall, resplendent in perfectly groomed mustachios and dinner jacket, and loaded - with quips and jests that started a ripple of laughs and soon had the crowd in an uproar - introduced Jack Larkin, whose doves, rings, salt bowls and dove to bunny transformation please everyone. The Junior Contest winner - a C. Foster Fenner pupil, Richard Mis - worked like a professional, and his stage display was real "class"! At this point the Senator himself took over with his famous 6 card Repeat routine, always uproarious fun. When the Senator subsided, John Giordmaine came on - something like a whirlwind - and the magic was so rapid fire I couldn't even keep pace with it! He delighted young and old, as always!
What are you going to follow Johnny's act with? Well Recil Bordner and Neil Foster and Crandall picked on Nevin Hoefert, known professionally as Captain Valentine and his Birds. The birds are trained Cockatoos, and what they can do is unbelievable! you've seen them on TV many times!
Jack Pyle, injured and hobbling on a peg leg, but a firm believer in the adage "the show must go on" showed the folds a thing or two about phenomenal memories by recalling everything in a current Saturday Evening Post - then wowed them with the biggest rabbit outside of Rabbittville! After Jack Pyle, again the audience had the pleasures of the Great Blackstone and his Mysteries - the old master still going strong! Crandall tried to restore order with his cut rope monologue, and it was sure fire - served well to bring on Bill Neff whose special stage act was built for this Get Together. A stage filled with apparatus, beautiful girls, Evelyn herself, many surprises, and the Goddess of Voodoo, a levitation playlet. What an act that was!
After the show the magicians adjourned to the display room for a showing of the Don Alan Magic Ranch TV show, to be seen this Fall on ABC Network Stations. The Don Alan-Karrell Fox film, and the Richard Himber film were "sneak" previewed, and the feeling was that Don had struck the magical gold in "them thar TV hills"
Saturday August 26
Lectures began 1 o'clock, Jack Gwynne opening. His experiences with the magicians in India are most entertaining - one wishes Jack could talk on and on!
Jack Larkin explained the dove portion of his routine. How simple it seems when explained! But what a deal of work it must have taken to put together this routine! It looks like magic even when he shows you how!
Vic Torsberg, long famous in Magic as the No. 1 Convention Show Stage manager, a student of both Magic and the Theater, lectured about Oriental Magic - and it was surprising to know that so many magicians, few of them Orientals by birth, became famous as Orientals magicians. Vic explained make-up, defined the scope of Oriental magic, explained many tricks, and closed with an act in which he impersonated a Japanese Magician.
Bill Neff held the attention of the crowd with his "Bonanza Magic" lecture - stressing the do's and don'ts and how's of getting publicity, booking shows, the things that will make the papers, advertising, and finally demonstrating tricks. Bill has material enough to go on for days, and only the lateness of the hour closed this fine educational feature.
Dorny, the "one and only" was MC for the final show - and the opening was a familiar Dorny opening - John Platt on stage when the curtains go apart, pantomiming a trick; two stage hands drag a screen across in front of John and as they pass by Dorny steps out, complete with flash paper, cigar and big smile. The curtains open to show a stage full of posters of famous magicians - Thurston, Dante, Birch, Grabel - this was the cast Dorny wanted, but what a cast he got! After this skit, the big show was opened by Bruce Posgate, who, as "Uncle Bruce," gave a sampling of the manner in which he entertains children - and since everyone liked it, the house must have been full of children! Jimmy Wear followed, featuring his Pillory Escape - effective and flashy. Paul Stadelman entertained with Windy Higgins; his feature bits and the voice in the bottle. The voices in the little boxes are unusual displays of "vent" virtuosity and registered well. the Rene's pleased with liquid magic, dove production, Dovan, and other colorful specialties, and Dorny, who had been interluding all evening with his favorite gags, closed the first half with "Why Dance" aided by Mrs. Rene.
Vic Torsberg (made up as Charlie Chan) opened after intermission with his Black Art act - well done, and some unusual effects. Bob and Ginny Lewis did everything even stopping the show - magic, monologue, banjo solos on an $850 banjo. The audience didn't want to let them go. Bob is a GRAND entertainer - he could make a wooden Indian laugh!
A "Dorny - Jim Ryan" sketch came on here, titled "It Could Happen to You" secretly I'm glad it didn't; nevertheless we have some hidden "Oscar" talent in the fraternity!
Suzy Wandas pleased with her skill and showmanship. Her act? Magic of the manipulative variety - cigarettes, card fans, split fans, card juggling, card palming, even a three-tiered fan! The blooming bouquet with Dorny was a nice build-up for the beautiful roses she received.
After calling upon Recil Bordner and Neil Foster to take bows and receive the thanks of the "Get-Togetherites," Dorny brought on Blackstone, who presented three of his most famous tricks - he entire Vanishing Birdcage routine, the Floating Light Bulb, and the Dancing Handkerchief. He was never in better form, and the audience reaction was a standing ovation and cheers - the applause must have continued over five minutes! I've never seen such a gesture of appreciation accorded any magician! Blackstone was deeply moved, and when order was finally restored, he introduced his brother Pete, with him through all his years in show business, and the lights went up again as the audience regretfully left the auditorium. A great Artist with three magical master works to close a wonderful show!
Old friends were there - many of them; space permits naming but a few - Dr. "U-No-Me" Walters, Oscar Hackler, George DeMott, Carlo Sommers, Arnold Krastin, Dr. Wierdo, Sally Banks, Harry otto, Doc Mahendra, Chick Schoke, Doc Harad, Inez Blackstone Kitchen, Joe and Mary Palen, C.L. Schmitt, Al Saal, bill Heisel, Howard Strickler, chuck Kirkham, Adrian Overstreet, Bob Parrish, Dr. Zina Bennett, Harry Garrison, Marie Dornfied, Dave Lustig, Jerry Furman, Bob Sherman, Charles and Patricia Vance, Stewart Judah, Phil Craig, Doc Zola, Verne Bloch, Harold Martin, Bob Hurt, Johnny Platt, Roy Kissell, Joe Scott, Bruce and bunny Elliott, Stewart James, John Hamilton, Woodrow Carpenter, Norman Houghton, John W. Frye, The Great Lyle, Ray Hackman, Steve Krasny, Everett Lydia, Bob Nelson, Bill and Betty Dodson, Don Redmon, Vern Peterka, and so many more! What a pleasure it was to see Gladys Abbott again, and her two pretty daughters; and to visit Monk Watson's office and talk over the things that happened long ago!
As I grow older the friendships made at these wonderful gatherings grow more precious. Neil and Recil, and all your fellow workers, this Get-Together was one of the best yet, and I cannot thank you enough for staging it! I hope to see you both at the next Get-Together!
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